San Diego State will be looking to get back on the winning track on Friday night as it hosts Fresno State (4-5, 2-3 Mountain West) in a battle for the Old Oil Can trophy at SDCCU Stadium. There will definitely be a heightened sense of urgency for both teams this week. The Aztecs (7-2, 4-2) want to keep their West Division lead while the Bulldogs are scrambling for bowl eligibility.
San Diego State had a forgettable performance on offense in getting upset by Nevada 17-13 to put a damper on the 2019 homecoming weekend. Quarterback Ryan Agnew was off target all night long, completing 18-of-35 attempts for 196 yards and an interception. The running game was stuck in neutral, as the Aztecs rushed for 113 yards on 39 carries against a Wolfpack team that had been vulnerable to the run. Head coach Rocky Long has a very high level of frustration right now, as his Aztecs are wasting a defense that is playing at a high level.
Fresno State dropped a nail biter to Utah State 37-35 on a 30-yard field goal by Dominik Eberle on the final play. Defensive issues continue to plague Fresno State; the Bulldogs allowed 525 yards, 388 of those from Jordan Love's passing, and 26 first downs. The inability to slow down opposing offenses in 2019 is a big reason why the Bulldogs have fallen back to the pack in the Mountain West Conference. Offensively, the ground game was effective for three quarters, and the Bulldogs did rack up five rushing touchdowns. Ronnie Rivers led the way for Fresno State with 17 carries for 102 yards and three touchdowns. But three straight three-and-outs in the fourth quarter proved costly.
Fresno State at San Diego State
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 15 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Spread: San Diego State -1.5
When Fresno State Has the Ball
Patience will be key for the Bulldogs, who will have to be able to run the ball with Rivers enough to keep the defense honest. Quarterback Jorge Reyna will also need to be disciplined in the passing game and not set up the Aztecs with a short field. Nevada did a nice job last week of avoiding the catastrophic mistake, and Bulldogs coach Jeff Tedford will need to follow a similar formula. Fresno State will need to create explosive plays, as grinding out long drives consistently is probably not going to be an option for the Bulldogs.
San Diego State needs to stack the box and dare Fresno State to throw the football. Cornerback Luq Barcoo already has five interceptions on the year, and it will be interesting to see how often the Bulldogs throw the ball to his side of the field. Kyahva Tezino had a huge night last week with nine tackles, a sack and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Tezino will need to cause havoc for the Fresno State offensive line and get the Bulldogs playing behind the sticks all night long.
When San Diego State Has the Ball
The numbers don’t lie for the Aztecs offense. They rank 11th in the Mountain West Conference in scoring offense at 20.8 points per game and are dead last in total offense in the conference at 326.6 yards per game. Clearly, the transition to a more spread-oriented offensive scheme has not gone well. Thus, it might behoove the Aztecs to go back to basics, simplify the scheme and get back to playing with physicality — which is easier said than done with running back Juwan Washington's health a lingering issue. The rest of the running back to room needs to step up and pound the rock 35-40 times on Friday. Receiver Kobe Smith also needs to have a productive game; five catches for 40 yards, like he had against Nevada, will not be enough on Friday night. Ryan Agnew threw a critical interception in the red zone that cost San Diego State a potential touchdown in the first half. Decision making by Agnew in the passing game will have to be better, as this offense has zero margin for error.
Fresno State has struggled defensively for most of the season, which is not a total surprise. However, this week could be an opportunity for the Bulldogs to pick up a confidence boost against the Aztecs offense. The Bulldogs are allowing 32.4 points per game, which ranks 103rd overall in FBS. Stopping teams in the red zone has been a big problem, as they have given up 29 touchdowns in 44 opportunities. Justin Rice and Mykal Walker are going to have to find a way to create a couple of turnovers to give Fresno State an opportunity to pull off the upset.
This should be a get-right game for the Aztecs' offense. However, with the way they are struggling, fans and observers will be skeptical. Agnew will need to take care of the football and efficiently spread the ball around in the passing game. San Diego State needs to win the turnover battle and cash in some points off of those takeaways. Fresno State will keep this game competitive into the fourth quarter, but San Diego State will survive with another close, low-scoring win on Friday night.
Prediction: San Diego State 20, Fresno State 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.